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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Benn calls for ballot over Speaker
Tony Benn
Veteran Labour campaigner Tony Benn
Veteran Labour MP Tony Benn has renewed calls for a change in the rules over the way the House of Commons elects its Speaker, branding the current system "crazy".

Mr Benn told BBC News Online that he had written to leaders of the political parties and the Father of the House of Commons, Sir Edward Heath, urging them to back a straightforward ballot for the election of the next speaker.

The present system is one where people are voted out - rather like Big Brother

Tony Benn
Under the current system, a candidate is usually chosen informally by the main parties. If that is not possible, then there is a debate on the merits of the rivals and a vote is taken.

Mr Benn said: "It's really a crazy system based on when there were only one or two candidates - as opposed to the 11 or so we have now.

"The present system is one where people are voted out - rather like Big Brother."

Instead, Mr Benn - a former Labour cabinet minister - wants a ballot so MPs can straightforwardly vote for who they like rather than opting for the least worst choice until all but the final candidate has been ruled out.

He insists that it is possible to amend Commons' standing orders to facilitate a ballot: "I've really done my homework on this."

Mr Benn - who is to step down as MP for Chesterfield at the next election - denied that he had any plans to run for Speaker

Betty Boothroyd
Retiring: Betty Boothroyd
His proposal for a ballot may get cross party support as already other MPs have voiced similar doubts over the current system which could precipitate a situation where the government might try to force them into voting for its preferred candidate.

Conservative John Bercow called for a secret ballot so that Labour MPs could resist such pressure.

"In view of growing concern that the government whips will seek to browbeat people into voting for a preferred candidate, can we have guidance on the possibility of ensuring that the election will be conducted by secret ballot?" he asked.

Election should be "democratic and open"

Left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn has also asked for the Commons to consider a "more democratic and open procedure than the one that has gone in the past".

"Is there anything wrong with having an election? The rest of the country does. Why can't we do it here?" he asked.

But behind Mr Benn's request to Sir Edward - the man who will oversee the election of the Speaker when MPs return from the summer recess on 23 October - is another equally serious point.

"The real question is whether the Commons gets off its knees and stands up and asserts itself to the government and to Brussels."

Mr Benn has long complained that the Commons has been denied a vote over issues like military action against Iraq or Kosovo.

They were also denied a vote when the government introduced 100 peers into the Lords, Mr Benn said.

He believes he will gain widespread support for the ballot saying: "I don't think that Ted Heath could refuse me permission."

The election of the new Speaker was sparked by the resignation of Betty Boothroyd who decided to retire.

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See also:

27 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaker goes out on a high note
20 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Call for open election for Speaker
14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaking off message
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaker Betty Boothroyd to retire
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